Darker Ages

There is an industry around romanticised paganism, its nothing new, it has been going on for decades, indeed more than decades, the Victorians were romanticising Britian’s past two centuries back. But there has been a particular raft of ‘cuddly’ paganism that has sprung up around Nordic culture in the last decade or so, and ‘cuddly’ Druidism has been around since the latter half of the 20th century.

None of which should be confused with actual druidism and paganism which is a complex series of belief systems, driven by a desire to be part of, and in tune with, the natural world. That is an entirely different thing.

Complex deeply held beliefs and meaningfully practised rituals, are not what I mean when I talk about ‘cuddly’ paganism. By ‘cuddly’ I mean people getting Nordic rune tattoos, T-shirts with woodcut ravens on them and quotes about Odin, Nordic beard rings, or getting lessons in axe throwing in a safe environment… Effectively commercial paganism, which has taken over from commercial ‘druidism’ selling dream catchers and incense burners at Beltane fire festivals (because western European druidism, Hindu spiritualism and native american cultural folk art are interchangeable, apparently)…

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with ‘cuddly’ paganism. I own a set of beard runes myself… But it should not be confused with actual paganism. Just as dream-catchers and incense burners are perfectly fine things but owning them and liking trees should not be confused with druidism…

By the same metric, modern paganism and druidism should not be confused with the origins of these two separate but related belief systems… Modern pagans and druids tend to be lovely people for a start, and the ones know they have never tied up a willing victim, garroted them, then dumped them in a peat bog at the winter solstice to bring fertility back to the land.

As far as I know…

The Pagans of pre-christian Europe on the other hand existed in not just another time, but in another world entirely. A darker world, a more brutal world, a place where survival was a fight against the elements, nature was a ‘mother’ by every cogitation of the word even that most modern of uses that Samuel L Jackson is so fond of using…

There was nothing ‘cuddly’ about pagan society, it was a visceral world of blood and sinew, bones and brutality. You lived, you died, and normally not a great many years passed between the two. Life was hard and the myths, spirits and gods of that world were visceral bloody brutal things. Yet in fiction they are often painted in a softer light. Just as modern fairy tales are not the the brutal folklore stories that inspired them…

This brings me neatly, in a none structured, not in anyway planned, way to Lore of the Saelvatici by Steven C Davis. This is a fascinating collection of short stories, narrative poems and pagan inspired folklore type stories of the darker ages. The tales are dark and visceral. There is nothing ‘cuddly’ about them. This is grim dark foe folk-law that has more in common with real folk-law than many modern interpretations of folk-law you might chose to read.

There is a grim fascinating beauty to this collection, which is in essence background material for a larger body of work. that larger body of work is a re imagined version of the Robin Hood mythology. If this is anything to go by that too will be grimmer and darker than you would generally expect. There isn’t much in the way of Lincoln Green and merry thigh slapping going on here. The narrative poem structure of much of this work only adds to the sense of agelessness and timelessness of the stories. They read as if meant to be performed.

Performed on a dark summers night, under the stars, around a campfire that crackles and spits as if it will rage out of control at any moment.

Performed by men and women with antlers tied to their heads, least you hope they are tied on, not grown.

This is visceral, dark, grim and engrossing stuff . It feels real, it feels like the folklore of an England long vanish and forgotten, when Sherwood was a boundless forbidding Forrest full of spirits both benevolent and malicious, often both at the same time. Hunter and hunted. Stag and wolf….

The art work by John Chadwick perfectly supplements the words of Steven C Davis, there is a wonderful woodcut quality to it that fits the material perfectly.

This is a dark read, there is that word again… But I like my folklore, real or otherwise, dark, visceral and threatening. I like to smell the smoke, and taste the blood, and feel the cold sweat upon my back…. I like the fear of the dark woods and everything beyond that tiny fireside that is civilisation….

This entry was posted in druidry, fantasy, fiction, horror, indie novels, indie writers, pagan, rites, supernatural, Uncategorized, writes, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Darker Ages

  1. jasperwoods says:

    Glad you liked it! An excellent review, thank you.


  2. Pingback: Books of the year 2022 edition | The Passing Place

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